Monday, January 6, 2014

Spread The Love

A couple years ago in the heat of summertime, I found myself staring blankly at beautiful, ripe fruit at the farmstand. I was at a loss - I wanted to buy the beautiful fruit in front of me but knew there was no way I could eat it all before it was too late.

It was then and there that I decided to learn how to preserve fruit. I did a bunch of research on the internet - which, in the end only scared me more. There are a ton of rules and even more opinions on the subject of which I eventually sifted through. And once I got over the fear of botulism, I talked Colin into joining me for a day of canning and preserving the fruits of summer.

We made a bunch of yummy jam, including Rosemary Peach and Apricot. To this day, apricot is still one of my all-time favorite jams to make, and when that fruit is in season, you can find me at the stove.

A couple years later, canning is now one of my favorite things to do. I love experimenting with different flavors and combinations. And, my friends love it, too. One of my best friend's sons loves the Strawberry Balsamic flavor and asks for it by name.

Until now, it was just a labor of love, something I enjoyed doing for myself and for my friends and family. But on Christmas, I was talking to my sister, and she actually convinced me to try selling my jams on Etsy. Initially, I hesitated because that makes things so official. But she's recently had some success with her shop, so I decided to give it a try as well. 

Here's one of the recipes I recently made. And it's for sale here, if you're interested in taste-testing. 

Pear Jam with Cardamom
Adapted from Food & Wine

4 lbs Anjou pears - peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups sugar
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

In a large bowl, toss the pears with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Put a metal spoon in the freezer - this will be to test the doneness of the jam later on. Transfer the pears and the liquid to a large pot and bring to a boil. Put the crushed cardamom in a tea ball and add it to the pot. Cook the pears over high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid starts to thicken and the pears become translucent - about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

Put a third of the pears into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the puree back to the pot. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the jam is very thick, about 5 more minutes. 

To test the jam's doneness, drop a small amount on the chilled spoon and freeze for 30 seconds. Tilt the spoon - if the jam runs down the spoon slowly, the jam is done. If the jam is runny, cook it for a few minutes longer, then test again.

Ladle the jam into clean, sterilized jars and then process for 10 minutes in a water bath. If you don't want to process the jam, it will store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Perfect 'Meatfull' Meal

Yesterday I spent a quiet day at the apartment with Wrigley, hiding from the snow piling up outside. Colin was at a workshop all day, and I knew he would be getting home pretty late so I made one of my favorite go-to dinners for him.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to make what I called 'meatfull' spaghetti. And I continue to ask for it by the same name to this day. It's the perfect weeknight (or, in this case, weekend) meal. It's just as good warm as it is cold. And, in my humble opinion, I think it actually gets better the longer it sits. It's spicy and sweet and just meaty enough. It's dead simple but simply delicious.

Mom's 'Meatfull' Spaghetti

1 pound spaghetti
1 package sweet Italian sausage, taken out of casings
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce - or an easy homemade version, like Marcella Hazan's classic
Black pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Boil a large pot of salted water and make spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. Heat up a large skillet, add Italian sausage and cook until browned. After about 5 minutes, throw the onion and garlic into the pan and give it a good stir to ensure the rendered fat from the sausage coats the onions and garlic. After the onions start to soften, add both of the peppers and cook for about a minute. Finally, add the sauce and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the sauce down to low to keep it warm. After the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain it and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Mix well and serve with the cheese.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Remedy For Midwinter Chills

Here in Chicago it has been snowing non-stop for the better part of three days. The sidewalks are slick. The streets are slow-moving. And everything is covered in a light, white dusting.

Being a lifelong Midwestern gal, I can handle the snow. If I'm being totally honest, I even kind of like it. But the cold is what gets to me. As I write this, it's in the single digits, and I'm wrapped in a blanket, sipping a cup of chai. These midwinter months are really about perseverance, about just getting through it because there's the promise of Summer In Chicago on the other side.

And one of the mainstays of my wintertime repertoire - along with a couple choice soups - is a warm, hearty ratatouille. As a reformed vegetarian, I have a special place in my heart for meals that give veggies the starring role. So when my mom introduced me to ratatouille several years ago, I was immediately sold.

More recently, I have fallen in love with Molly's ratatouille recipe from her lovely memoir, A Homemade Life (which, on a side note, is a perfect read for a lazy Saturday... and you'll want to make everything). It's wholesome and hearty yet easy to make on a weeknight. Gradually, I've started to experiment with her recipe and have recently put my own spin on her classic. Tonight, despite my penchant for vegetarian dishes, I decided to put some homemade Italian sausage into the stew to add a bit of flavor and depth.

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille with Italian Sausage
Adapted from A Homemade Life

1 eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
Olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, either sliced or taken out of casings
3 zucchini, halved and sliced into half moon slices
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced
28 oz can of chopped San Marzano tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup finely chopped basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange eggplant rounds on a baking sheet in a single layer. Brush each side of the eggplant with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through. After the slices are browned on each side, remove from the oven and set aside.

Cook the Italian sausage in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once browned, remove from the pan and set aside. In the pan drippings, add the zucchini and cook until browned and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Once finished, remove the zucchini from the pan as well and set aside.

Now add the onion and cook until slightly softened, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes, add the bell pepper and garlic and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The peppers and garlic should be tender but not browned.

Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf, and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sausage, eggplant and zucchini and cook for about 20 minutes more, until everything is tender.

Just before serving, adjust seasonings if needed and sprinkle the basil on top.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Blank Slate, Full Tummy

Today's the start of new year. A blank slate.

And laying in bed I had big plans for the first breakfast of 2014. That is, until I looked outside.

Blustery snows and 20 degree temperatures. Peering out from my 13th floor apartment, the last thing I want to do is run out to the store for breakfast supplies. 

What I really wanted to do was stay in my pajamas, cuddle up on the couch with a blanket and find a Back To The Future marathon. But I had promised Colin that I'd make breakfast, so before I got comfy on the couch, I had to figure something out.

I did a quick pantry check and breathed a sigh of relief. One of my favorite brunch items was minutes away from becoming a reality.

Since I can remember, my mom has been making Apple Pancake for our family. I've lost count of the times I've woken up to the intoxicating smells of cinnamon and apple sautéing in the pan. This little pancake holds a special place in my heart. So I thought it would be perfect for this special occasion. 

Apple Pancake

5 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour (heaping)

6 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced (Note: used mixed variety of apples for best flavor)
4 tablespoons butter, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar, plus 3 tablespoons

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla together. Gradually add the flour and mix until smooth. Then, in a cast iron skillet, saute the apples and butter until the apples are soft and browned. Add the cinnamon and brown sugar and stir into apples until melted. Pour the egg mixture over the apples and put the pan into the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, take the skillet out of the oven. Turn on the broiler, and while it's heating up, sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of butter and the 3 tablespoons of brown sugar on the top of the pancake. Place it under the broiler just until sugar is melted.